Biden, Harris discuss rise in hate crimes during visit to Atlanta

Mass shootings prompt national conversation about racism against Asian-American community

US president Joe Biden and vice-president Kamala Harris met members of the Asian-American community in Atlanta on Friday, as the city continued to reel from a mass shooting earlier this week.

Eight people – six of whom were Asian-American women – were shot dead during an attack at three massage businesses in the greater Atlanta Area. Robert Aaron Long (21) was charged with eight counts of murder and faces the death penalty if convicted. He was stopped and arrested by police on the interstate, 150 miles south of Atlanta on his way to Florida after the shooting rampage on Tuesday. Police said he had confessed to the killings.

The visit by the president and vice-president to Atlanta had been scheduled before the mass shooting. But following the atrocity, White House postponed a planned event to celebrate the passing of the $1.9 trillion stimulus package and instead Mr Biden and Ms Harris met with Asian-American leaders in the region to discuss the recent rise in hate crimes against members of the community. They also visited the headquarters of the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the agency at the forefront of America's response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Mr Biden, who was due to give an address at Emory University last night, said: "It's up to all of us to root out racism and give hate no safe harbour in America."


‘Alarming level’ of incidents

The president earlier this week ordered all flags on federal buildings to fly at half-mast in honour of the people who were killed and will remain so until Monday. Seven of the victims of the shootings were women, and all had been named by police yesterday.

The mass shooting has prompted a national conversation about racism against Asian-American people, which has been on the rise in part due to the association of the coronavirus with China. Former president Donald Trump regularly referred to Covid-19 as the "China virus". A UN report late last year issued a warning about "an alarming level" of racially-motivated incidents against Asian-Americans.

The sheriff involved in the Atlanta case was criticised this week for saying that there was no evidence that the shootings were racially motivated, but instead was sexually-driven. Captain Jay Baker of Cherokee County said that the suspect had described himself as a sex addict, adding that the suspect had been having "a really bad day" – a comment that was seen by many as minimising the attack.

George Floyd trial

Separately, in Minneapolis, a judge dismissed a call from the defence team in the George Floyd murder trial to move proceedings outside of the city or delay the trial. But the court also announced it would permit the use of evidence relating to an unrelated arrest of Mr Floyd in 2019.

Former police officer Derek Chauvin who was filmed pressing his knee on the neck of Mr Floyd for almost nine minutes as he died, is facing charges of second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Thirteen of the 14 jurors have been selected, and the trial is expected to begin on March 29th. Mr Chauvin's defence team is arguing that Mr Floyd's death was due to drugs in his system when he died – not as a result of the police officer's actions.

The death of Mr Floyd in May last year while under arrest by police sparked global protests about racial injustice and the issue of policing in the US.

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch, a former Irish Times journalist, was Washington correspondent and, before that, Europe correspondent